Southern Oregon AVA
Southern Oregon was the birthplace of the wine industry in the state, with the grapes first planted here in the mid-19th century. Peter Britt, widely regarded as Oregon’s the first commercial wine producer, planted Valley View vineyard, next to his home overlooking Jacksonville in the Rogue Valley. His first wine was produced in 1958 and the vineyard is still active today. Vintner Richard Sommer started the first post-prohibition winemaking here in 1961, founding Hillcrest Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley. It didn’t take long before other winemakers took note of the impressive diversity of growing conditions in the area, with more arriving in the 1970s, planting cool- and warm-climate varieties.
In 2004, the Southern Oregon AVA became official, and it continues to grow, encompassing the state’s southwest region. It covers the area between the California border to 125 miles south of Eugene, from the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains, and includes the Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, Applegate Valley, Elkton Oregon, and Red Hill Douglas County appellations where there is an assortment of over 120 wineries and tasting rooms along with about 8,000 vineyard acres.
The Geology, Climate, and Terrain That Make This a World-Class Wine Region
Southwest Oregon is renowned for its picturesque scenery, with lush forests, mountains, and rivers that make it enjoyable for visitors of all types. It’s generally the driest and warmest of the state’s wine regions with geology that’s quite different from others, with a complex mosaic of around 50 different soils. They’re spread across a very faulted landscape. In fact, in many vineyards, you’ll see a fault line dividing them in two with significantly different soil types on either side.
The three mountain ranges that intersect, the Cascades, Klamath Mountains, and the Coast Range, result in an undulating landscape with a variety of elevations and aspects. The geology, mesoclimates, and terrain come together to produce a wide range of high-quality grapes from both warm and cool climates, but it’s only been recently that it’s true potential as a world-class vinicultural region was discovered and appreciated.
The Passion of the Winemakers
Of course, the winemakers are a key piece of the puzzle. The pioneers in the state had an “anything goes” philosophy and that thinking continues to be embraced today. Passion goes into a thoughtful process that blends art and science. There’s a willingness to experiment with diverse clones, use natural fermentation practices, and sustainable farming, while bringing love and nature into every glass.
Southern Oregon’s warm weather varieties are frequently grown with blending in mind. Some of the recently planted grapes like Marsanne and Roussanne are making the colourful palate more interesting. The area’s typically hot, dry summers and cool evenings are ideal for many grape varieties. The more arid, warmer regions produce fabulous Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet franc, Grenache, Dolcetto, and Petit verdot. In the cooler areas, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Gewürztraminer, and Sauvignon blanc often thrive.